Fireworks to mark Canada Day in Calgary will be taking on a different tone this year.
Instead of celebrating the anniversary of confederation, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the fireworks will mark the loss of thousands of Indigenous children to Canada’s residential school system.
Gone is the traditional countdown and ceremonial pushing of a button to set off the pyrotechnics. Instead, a daylong broadcast on local campus and community radio station CJSW will culminate in a fireworks simulcast.
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“What you will hear is a real difference, to talk about how those fireworks are not what they usually are,” Nenshi said. “They’re not meant to be a celebration, they’re meant to be an honouring of the children who we’ve lost and a commitment to the future.
“And so you will hear a moment of silence prior to the fireworks.”
Nenshi said he had spent the last few days speaking with Calgarians of all walks of life and was able to consult a circle of Indigenous elders. Calgary’s mayor also spoke with political leadership from Treaty 7 First Nations.
“What I really heard from so many people was an incredible generosity of spirit,” Nenshi said. “By and large, (the elders) advice to us was not to move forward in division and anger, but to be able to move forward together as a nation.”
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Nenshi added that the elders advised Canada Day should not be something to cancel.
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“It’s something to really build upon, to use it as an opportunity to talk about Indigenous history, an Indigenous future of Canada and to help people commit themselves to reconciliation,” he said.
Nenshi said part of the dialogue was about encouraging Calgarians who are new to the idea of the truth and reconciliation process to dig deeper into the country’s history on its birthday.
“They want to make sure that people for whom the conversation of reconciliation is a new conversation… we understand that we’ve got some terrible things in our past as Canada, but we also have some things to be proud of,” he said.
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Calgary’s mayor said he believes people can grapple with those two ideas in their mind at the same time.
“I actually believe people are smart,” Nenshi said.
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The announcement came on the same day that the Calgary Catholic School District’s board of trustees voted to remove Bishop Vital Grandin’s name from a Calgary high school. Grandin is known for playing a key role in implementing Canada’s residential school system.
The modification to the fireworks also came days after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered by a former residential school on the Cowessess First Nation and weeks after a similar discovery near the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
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